CUBA: Aleida Guevara - The left should not abandon 'its core principles'

July 23, 2003

ALEIDA GUEVARA is a Cuban pediatrician and the eldest daughter of Argentinian revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Aleida March. She works at the William Soler Children's Hospital in Havana, but has also used her skills to aid the people of Angola, Ecuador and Nicaragua. On July 3, during her Australian visit sponsored by Ocean Press, she spoke to Green Left Weekly's VANNESSA HEARMAN.

"The US government has pumped millions of dollars into their project of getting rid of our socialist system", said Guevara. "The US was not afraid to violate all international laws in its invasion of Iraq."

She noted that the European Union, in its attempt to forge a closer relationship with the US, has chosen to support Washington's anti-Cuba policies.

Cuba's jailing of 75 "dissidents" in early April has been criticised by some prominent leftist writers and intellectuals, including Eduardo Galleano and Noam Chomsky. Guevara maintained that "it is very difficult for me to view them as dissidents when they were paid and supported by the US government to overthrow the Cuban system".

She also said that the media silence around the incarceration of five Cuban men in US prisons on charges of espionage and conspiracy stood in sharp contrast to the clamour of condemnation against Cuba for its decision to mete out revolutionary justice against Washington's mercenary "dissidents".

Guevara said that the only "crime" committed by the five imprisoned Cubans was trying to prevent terrorism. They are serving sentences in five separate US prisons, ranging from life imprisonment to 15 years. Cuba is fighting for the men to at least have a re-trial in accordance with US laws — laws which "even the judge presiding over the trial recognised were not followed".

Guevara pointed to the US response to the policies of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's government as an example of what other resource-rich Third World countries could expect if they challenged US domination. Attempting to channel the earnings from a country's exports to the benefit of its working people, as the Chavez government was doing with its oil revenues, is viewed by the US rulers as a revolutionary threat to US business interests.

"Chavez just wants to get Venezuelan oil into the hands of the Venezuelan people. What is wrong with that?"

Washington's response, however, has been to back two attempted coups to depose Chavez.

Guevara argued that this highlighted the hypocrisy of the US rulers, who have ignored the fact that Chavez was popularly elected. "They have no respect for the outcome of the elections, because the elections have produced a leader who challenges their interests.

"We want to help Venezuela — of course, keeping in mind our limited ability to do so." Guevara said that Cuba has sent teachers to help with Venezuela's literacy campaign.

Guevara thought that the Chavez government was also limited in its ability to lead the way in promoting left-radical politics in the rest of Latin America, because of the past decimation of the radical left in many countries as a result of the severe political repression by right-wing governments.

The weakening of the Latin American left as a result of government-organised killings and disappearances had also been compounded by the disunity among Latin American left organisations.

Latin America has borne the brunt of neoliberal policies over the last 20 years. Guevara said that the number of people living below the poverty line has increased four-fold in that region. "Imagine the great waste of human potential and resources as a result of this."

There was a limit to "how much hardship human beings could withstand". She said that human beings would find a way of rebelling, in the ways they knew best.

"I was lucky to be able to gain a socialist education in Cuba and so perhaps that's why I think in this way, but I have met others, who did not even have basic education, but were courageous enough to take the risk to change their circumstances."

Guevara said that this was because "people start to think that they will die from hunger anyway, so they might as well risk trying to stop this situation of hunger and poverty".

Guevara cited the example of Rosa, a peasant woman actively involved in the Movimento Sem Terra (MST — Movement of the Landless) in Brazil. Part of the MST's strategy is to engage in large-scale occupations of land owned by absentee landowners. This strategy has been met with repression by the Brazilian government, as well as by private armed guards of the landowners.

"Rosa had none of my education, maybe none of my ideology, but she didn't just talk about changing her situation. She did it. As part of the MST, she died defending a plot of land."

While the objective conditions demanded that change occurred sooner rather than later in Latin America, Guevara warned that at present there was not "much self-confidence in left movements". She said there was "great human potential", but less understanding of the means by which progressive social change could take place.

Che Guevara's ideas could show the way in this regard. She advised young people to "know more about Che's work". She said the strength of his work was in its ability to break down preconceptions and get to the core of what it was he was fighting for.

"My father charted a particular path in terms of how to change the world, but he also left open other possibilities — contained in his writings and ideas."

She welcomed various initiatives of uniting the left in broader organisations, but argued that those involved in such unity processes should never lose sight of the objective "of what you are trying to achieve in the first place".

She said: "In our search for strength, be mindful not to lose the quality of your struggle, otherwise the capitalists have won in their attempts to weaken left organisations.

"It is very good to have more strength, but it is also good not to lose the core principles [of what you are trying to achieve] and not to forget the teachings of Marxism.

"Basically, what I am saying is, have strength but without selling out your politics."

Guevara also said that the struggle for socialism must take into account the reality that exists in each country, whether it be in Scotland, Cuba or Australia.

She argued that while Brazilian Workers Party leader Lula da Silva accession to the presidency in that country was a "triumph for the people", the tasks ahead of him were very onerous. "As long as Latin America labours under the dictates of neoliberalism and the International Monetary Fund continues to impose conditions on the region's economies, change will continue to be out of reach."

Guevara argued that people within both the developed and underdeveloped countries must work together to achieve radical change. "When the people of the First World begin to understand their role in changing society and they act to do so, that is the 'other side of the coin', if you like... the part that would make the coin whole, that would make change possible."

From Green Left Weekly, July 23, 2003.
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